The 7 digital skills every charity leader needs

Zoe Amar Speaking at event

Written by Zoe Amar, Director, Zoe Amar Communications

Mark Fields wasn’t expecting to be fired.

He’d been at his organisation for 28 years and had achieved record profits. But last year Fields was asked to move on.

Mark was CEO of Ford. His board are said to have let him go because he didn’t have the skills to lead the company in the age of self-driving cars. He was replaced by Jim Hackett, a director at Ford with close connections to Silicon Valley. Ford’s chair cited a time of unprecedented change as one of the reasons for hiring Hackett, stating that the company needed transformational leadership due to the rise of technology in their industry.

Could we see a story like Mark Fields’ in the charity sector? When we mapped digital skills across UK charities in last year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, leadership emerged as an issue that needs serious attention. 80% of respondents told us they wanted their leadership team to provide a clear vision of digital and what it could help them achieve. And unless boards and leadership teams develop their digital skills, 66% were worried their charities would miss out on opportunities for digital fundraising, and 53% were worried that they would concede ground to competitors, lose touch with their audience and their charity would become irrelevant.

We’re now mapping digital skills again for The Charity Digital Skills Report 2018. We’re really keen to hear from you to find out what has changed, so that we can demonstrate where the sector is at with digital. Charities used last year’s report to make the business case for digital to their boards and leadership teams, and it has been cited as a valuable resource for charities in the House of Lords. We’d love to hear from more charities all over the UK.

Since leadership is key to charities moving ahead with digital, what skills should leaders develop? Here are my top 7.

  1. Emerging tech. With automation predicted to replace 800 million jobs by 2030, affecting 1 in 5 jobs across the UK, what does this mean for your charity’s business model? We are seeing some fascinating examples of nonprofits using these technologies, from Arthritis Research UK partnering with IBM Watson to create a virtual assistant, to the Children’s Society’s trialling an AI chatbot to promote fundraising events. Charity leaders need to develop emerging tech skills or they will miss out on exciting opportunities.
  2. Data. As a leader I know you spend a lot of your day looking at numbers. Yet when it comes to digital, I’ve met many charity leaders who aren’t sure what metrics to review, or how data needs to be managed. Guiding the rest of your leadership team on these areas will help them make informed decisions, improve performance, and ensure compliance with GDPR.
  3. Understanding your audience. Charity leaders aren’t always working with their beneficiaries and supporters everyday and it’s easy to begin making assumptions about them. Why not take your CEO and board through your digital team’s latest user journeys?
  4. The ability to teach. Who can you train, coach or mentor in your charity to bring their digital skills up to speed? And how will you encourage other digital leaders in your organisation to do the same?
  5. Persuading and influencing. Technical digital skills are great yet I’m concerned that as a sector we sometimes prioritise these over the ability to take people with us. On our Third Sector Digital Leaders Programme we invest a lot of time in developing students’ soft skills. So, don’t just hire a good head of digital. Test their leadership skills and ability to drive change.
  6. Digital fundraising. My contacts who are experts in this space tell me that the model is shifting from broadcasting asks to potential donors. They are focusing on building communities and continuous engagement. Does your leadership team have the skills to prepare for this?
  7. Find the right talent. It’s hard to get the best people and your charity’s leaders may need to think differently to attract highly skilled digital professionals. Is your HR director up to speed on this? And how could you use digital to tap into the networks of your leadership team and board?

Charity leaders who take the time to work on these skills will be able to seize the opportunities offered by digital. And they must also develop the open, curious, and collaborative mindset to go with it. The lesson from Mark Fields for charities is that the world is changing rapidly, and leaders must be armed with the right skills to face the future.

Zoe Amar and Skills Platform are currently working on The Charity Digital Skills Report, a free resource to help track where the charity sector is at with digital, helping you benchmark your organisation. Share your views by taking the quick survey to build the report. There are £200 of Amazon vouchers to be won courtesy of Clear Lessons Foundation. All responses must be received by midnight on Friday 16 February 2018. 


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